NOT SAFER BUT POORER
By Dr Hannah Middleton
Australian Anti-Bases Campaign Coalition
On November 17 2011 US President Obama said, in a speech to the Australian Parliament: “The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the same time announced that 250 rising to 2,500 US Marines will be stationed at an Australian base inDarwinin theNorthern Territory. The new deal also includes an increased number of visits by US ships and aircraft, greater US access to Australian military bases, more joint military exercises (for ‘interoperability’ so the Australian Defence Force can work effectively under US orders and with US equipment) and the storage of greater amounts of US military material and equipment in Australia.
The decision was announced after many months of secret negotiations. It will have far-reaching local impacts and foreign policy consequences and yet the announcement was made without debate in Parliament or any consultation with Australians.
Recently the Australian Government completed a Force Posture Review which recommended moving Australian military assets to the north and west of the continent. The reason given was protection of major Australian economic assets, including mineral deposits and offshore oil and gas. Actually the Review recommendations, which are already being implemented, are support measures for the USmilitary realignment that threatens to bring war to our doorstep.
The Wall Street Journal (27/1/12) indicates that theUS marines will use the new forward-staging base inDarwin as a launch pad for Southeast Asia, signallingChina that theUS has quick-response capability inBeijing’s backyard.
The new doctrine placesChinaat the centre of US “security” concerns and prioritises expansion ofUSwar making capacities in Asia and the Pacific andIndianOceans.
Hilary Clinton, writing last November in Foreign Policy, asserted that the new Asia-Indo-Pacific focus puts the US “in the best position to sustain our leadership, secure our interests, and advance our values…
“Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Our economic recovery at home will depend on exports and the ability of American firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia.”
The movement of the majority of US military assets to the region, plus military facilities and deployment of US troops, ships and planes in Australia and so many other countries in Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, gives the US the ability to shut down China’s imports of energy and raw materials and to cripple its economy.
China’s military expansion is actually small compared to US military.Australia’s intelligence community has stated thatChina’s current limited military build-up is not a threat toAustralia. Rather it isChina’s response to the hugeUSmilitary expansion in the Asia-Pacific region.
Despite the fact thatChina’s military budget is less than one tenth that of theUS,Chinais providing the “enemy” theUSmilitary-industrial complex requires.
A new book, The Kingdom and the Quarry: China, Australia, Fear and Greed, by David Uren, reveals the existence of a secret chapter inAustralia’s 2009 Defence White Paper that contemplated war withChina.
Not a new policy
President Obama introduced this military realignment at the Pentagon on January 5 this year when he unveiled the policy document entitled Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defence.
The ideas in this policy document are not actually new.
In 2001 a strategic review conducted by the Bush administration concluded that: “… the Pacific Ocean should now become the most important focus of U military deployments, with China now perceived as the principal threat to American global dominance” and its number one enemy.”
September 11, 2001 sent them in another direction. President Bush shifted focus to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the projection of American power throughout theMiddle East.
Later, on June 4, 2005, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld gave a speech inSingapore, signalling a new emphasis in White House policy making. He criticised what he calledChina’s ongoing military build-up and claimed that it posed a threat to regional peace and stability.
USstrategy was spelt out in the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). This said theUnited Stateswill not allow the rise of a competing superpower. “Of the major and emerging powers,” the QDR says, “China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S. military advantages”
Preparing for war withChinawill also provide additional super profits for theU.S.armaments corporations. It will be the primary justification for the acquisition of costly new weapons systems
Further US expansion
A report for theUSmilitary contains a recommendation to expandAmerica’s defence presence inAustraliaby massively expanding a base inPerthfor aUSaircraft carrier and supporting fleet. The plan is included as part of one of four options set out in a report by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), commissioned by the Department of Defence.
The third option in the report – formally titled US Force Posture Strategy in the Asia Pacific Region: An Independent Assessment – details moving aUS carrier strike group to the HMAS Stirling base inPerth. The strike group would include a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, a carrier air wing of up to nine squadrons, one or two guided missile cruisers, two or three guided missile destroyers, one or two nuclear powered submarines and a supply ship.
“Australia’s geography, political stability, and existing defence capabilities and infrastructure offer strategic depth and other significant military advantages to theUnited Statesin light of the growing range of Chinese weapons systems, US efforts to achieve a more distributed force posture, and the increasing strategic importance of south-east Asia and theIndian Ocean,” says the report.
Obama’s “pivot” is taking place against the background of the extraordinary growth in US-Australian military and intelligence co-operation over the last decade.
Australiasigned on for three new “training bases” with theUSmilitary at the annual Australian-US Ministerial Consultations inWashingtonin July 2004. Facilities at the Shoalwater Bay Training Area inQueenslandand the Bradshaw Land Training Area andDelamereAirWeaponsRangein theNorthern Territoryare being developed at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. The three facilities will be linked with US bases and inter-linked through a node in the Pacific War Fighting Centre inHawai’i. The Memorandum of Understanding between the US and Australia refers to the need for planes, ships and submarines based in Guam, or rotated to Guam from Hawai’i or the US continent, to have access to training facilities which only Australia can provide.
The commitment to enhanced joint exercises takesAustraliafurther down the path of “interoperability” — the process of the gradual fusion of the Australian Defence Force into a de-facto arm of theUnited Statesmilitary.
Pine Gap, 20 kms southeast ofAlice Springs, is one of the largest and most important US war fighting and intelligence bases in the world. It is a satellite ground control station. Pine Gap is connected to the Space Based Infra-Red System (SBIRS), which is a key element in missile defence. It is the most important of at least 30USmilitary facilities already inAustralia.
Space-tracking facilities inAustraliaare being networked into a regional missile defence system with the Jindalee Operational Radar Network (JORN) to become an increasingly important component of the system.
Darwinis a port city on the northern coast. It is ideally placed to control of the strategic Timor Gap naval passage and for US plans for containment ofChina.
It is also no accident that Halliburton, US Vice President Dick Cheney’s corporation, has recently built what is a strategic railway from Alice Springs (near Pine Gap) toDarwin.
The Australian Government recently signed an agreement to allow US forces to return toNorth WestCape, (the Harold E Holt military base at Exmouth inWest Australia). As well as a US VLF submarine communications base,North WestCapewill be the site for the US Space Surveillance Network sensors.
In addition, the Australian Government is already giving much greater attention and money to cyber warfare and is also buying its own drones.
Signed in 1952, the ANZUS treaty underpinsAustralia’s military relationship with theUSA.
Despite the views of the Australian public, ANZUS does not contain specific commitments or any guarantees that theUSwill assistAustraliain times of need, even though it speaks vaguely about “consultation” and “action in accordance with constitutional processes”.
Unlike NATO, which obliged each country to come to the aid of all signatories, ANZUS only obliged each party to consult if aggression was threatened.
The only times the treat has been invoked in the 60 years since its signing, Australia has ended up paying in one way or another for US strategic interests and US aggression.
It is not a mutual pact. It is a treaty of Australian subservience and a cover for aggression. It subvertsAustralia’s sovereignty, distorts the country’s economy, and undermines its citizens’ security.
The alliance with “our great and powerful friend” allegedly servesAustralia’s security needs but this has never been tested. On the other side of the ledger are the human, financial, environmental, social and political cost to Australians.
The US-Australia military alliance distorts our society. Instead of a focus on sustainable development, socially useful production and the needs of the community, priority is given to supportingUSforeign policy, military spending and increasingly repressive social control. The beneficiaries are not our people but theUSand Australian militaries together with hugeUScorporations and some Australian companies.
Australia’s current military spending of over Aus$80 million a day steals the resources which should be funding human and social needs. Much of this spending is dictated by the equipment needed to fight in coalition with theUS, not byAustralia’s genuine defence needs.
Promises of economic development for all are a mirage. Pubs, restaurants and massage parlours will make lots of money but ordinary people won’t see a cent. AndAustralia’s important he tourist industry will suffer.
Military spending creates far fewer jobs than spending the same dollars on civilian projects. When theUSbase at North West Cape (WA) closed down, the neighbouring town ofExmouthexperienced an economic boom. Now the base is to re-open.
Preparing for war withChinaprovides additional super profits for theUSarmaments corporations. It has been and will be the primary justification for the acquisition of costly new weapons systems inAustraliatoo.
Resources committed to the military mean less money for developing strong social cohesion and stability within the nation through employment programs and the health, education and housing needs of Australians and our neighbours.
A feature of military expenditure is its “opportunity costs”, that is, the opportunities which are foregone for alternative consumption and investment. Military spending reduces investment and diverts funds and personnel from civilian research and development.
“To advocate an alternative, independent foreign policy would mean a great saving in our defence spending. On a recent ABC TV “Insiders” program, journalist George Megalogenis estimated we could halveAustralia’s Defence budget. Imagine an additional Aus$14 billion dollars available for implementing the Gonski Report on Education, additional funding for health, care for the elderly and those with disabilities, investment in alternative energy production and conservation and increase in the allocation for overseas aid.” (Alan McPhate, “New Directions in Australian Foreign Policy”, Australian Humanist, No.107, 2012)
TheUSmilitary holds an unenviable position as one of the world’s worst polluters, and yet the Australian Government has invited them into environmentally significant Australian wilderness.
Considerable environmental problems have developed during the Talisman Sabre joint military exercises, and an increase in war games on Australian soil is on the agenda.
Talisman Sabre is held every second year in world heritage areas, natural heritage listed sites which include indigenous sites and Ramsar wetlands
Environmental impacts identified by the Australian Department of Defence include effects on air quality, potential harm to marine animals (including threatened species such as loggerhead turtles, dugongs and whales), fire potential, noise pollution, waste disposal and spills and erosion from amphibian craft landings and weapon target zones, collisions with marine mammals, and contamination from toxic chemicals including red and white phosphorus and perchlorate.
The Department of Defence does not include the presence of nuclear powered warships within theGreat Barrier ReefMarineParkas an environmental risk.
A delicate, pristine ecology experiences a blitzkrieg. At a time when climate change dominates our thoughts, the Talisman Sabre war games spew vast amounts of greenhouse gases from all the ships, tanks, planes and explosions which it unleashes. Australiahas laws punishing littering but government sanctioned military environmental terrorism is apparently above the law.
Disputes about who is responsible for contamination at the Harold Holt Naval Base inWestern Australia(North WestCape) ares ongoing between theUSand Australian authorities. Such disputes can be expected to increase in the future as theUSmilitary footprint inAustraliaexpands.
The majority of the majorUSbases inAustraliaare located on Aboriginal land and deny the indigenous people of this country their land rights.
OverseasUSbases have become the centre of major social problems. They are linked to increases in violence, prostitution, drugs, alcoholism, rape, sexually transmitted diseases, and abuse of women and children. The Australian experience is similar.
There have been incidents such as United States MPs assaulting Aborigines in an Ipswich (Queensland) pub during the 1997 Tandem Thrust war games and a February 2004 court case inDarwinwhen twoUSservicemen were charged with rape. An Anglican Church report fromHobartinTasmaniadetails frequent sexual assaults on juvenile men and women by US service people.
Communities around US bases have recorded high levels of rapes committed by foreign soldiers, and other violent crimes. It would be foolish not to expect the same to happen inDarwinand around the Stirling naval base inWest Australia.
The 1963 Status of Forces Agreement betweenAustraliaand theUSholds that in circumstances where an alleged offence is committed by an officer in the course of his or her official duties,Australiahas an international obligation to give theUSprimary jurisdiction to deal with the officer.
This led to Attorney General Robert McClelland issuing a certificate that allowed the killing of a cyclist inWillowbank,Queenslandby aUSnaval officer to be handled by US authorities.
Australia’s support for and integration with the USmilitary increases the hostility that the country attracts and increases the risks of it becoming a target. Already Australia’s intimacy with the USreportedly makes the nation of far more interest to the intelligence agencies of other states, including China. (Philip Dorling, “Australia, Canada‘primary spy targets’ The Age 26 July 2012)
As launching platforms for military activities, bases that provide troops, weapons and intelligence are also, by definition, military targets. Military bases destabilise regions and provoke military responses. While ostensibly for national security reasons, bases frequently provoke conflict and create the very insecurity they were intended to prevent.
The expansion of theUSmissile defence system inAustraliawill create more regional tension and instability, increasing the possibility of war.
Rory Medcalf asks how increasingAustralia’s military spending can “avoid conveying a more threatening posture in its region? How would it be possible to prevent this expansion … from creating great unease in some other countries, encouraging them to devote even more of their wealth to their own military capabilities?” (Rory Medcalf, “Questioning Australia’s Beowulf Option”, Security Challenges, Vol. 4, Number 2 (Winter 2008), p149)
And of course the ANZUS alliance with theUShas embroiledAustraliain the conflicts inIraqandAfghanistanat an enormous financial and human cost.
Loss of sovereignty
By allowing foreign military bases to be established, the host country yields sovereignty over activities involving that facility. The Australian parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has complained that MPs are kept in the dark about the function and activities of theUSbase at Pine Gap and are “entrusted with less information than can be found in a public library”.
The former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser points out thatAustralia’s grovelling toWashingtonis hampering ties withAsia. (Sydney Morning Herald, 24/4/12) There is no doubt that the “deputy sheriff” label has stuck andAustraliais viewed with some caution by many of its regional neighbours, undermining the development of economic and political relationships.
Australia’s military relationship with theUS undermines the country’s independence as well as making a nonsense of any commitment to disarmamentAustralia has.
The Medical Association for the Prevention of War criticises the Australia-US Treaty on Defence Trade Co-operation for risking a decrease in arms trade transparency, undermining Australia’s strong support for the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty process. (http://www.mapw.org.au/files/downloads/Submission%20to%20DECO%20on%20Defence%20Trade%20Controls%20Regulations%202012_Final(1).pdf)
In a letter, MAPW President Dr Jenny Grounds argues that the proposal to base nuclear-powered ships and aircraft inPerthwould be out of step with the nuclear weapons-free zone to whichAustraliahas been a signatory since 1985. (The Age, 4/8/12)
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam (press release 1Nov2012) makes a similar point when he says the role ofNorth WestCapein supporting theUSnuclear-armed submarine fleet is in conflict withAustralia’s commitments to nuclear disarmament.
An atmosphere of fear and insecurity is being fanned to assist a massive attack on civil liberties. Federal and State legislation, being used first against the Muslim community, is intended to destroy democratic rights and stifle all dissent.
70 per cent of Australians want less money spent on defence and a large majority, 82 per cent, oppose tax increases to pay for more defence spending. (2009AustralianNationalUniversitypoll). Over 70 per cent opposed Australian involvement in theIraqwar. A majority wantAustraliaout ofAfghanistanimmediately. None of these views have influenced the policies of Labor or Liberal governments.
The Australian Labor Party (right-wing social democrats), the Liberal Party (a conservative organisation), the military and the defence establishment (bureaucracy, academic and business) all support the alliance with theUSup to the hilt. Indeed some commentators talk of a pathology which has made any serious debate on the issue inconceivable for over five decades.
Recently, however, the Australian Financial Review (9/8/12) has reported a growing split in the ranks of the social democratic Labor Government. Federal Defence Minister Stephen Smith described theUS marine deployment toDarwin as just an “evolution inAustralia’s long standing relationship with theUS. He also said theUS “will continue to be the most important strategic actor in our region for the foreseeable future”.
In contrast a former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating has said the Federal Government should not backUSrivalry against a risingChina. His view was supported by Geoff Raby, a former Australian ambassador toChina, who criticised the Federal Government’s decision to train US marines inAustralia’s north.
In a statement which stunned many commentators, a highly respected former Liberal Prime Minister weighed into the debate about the dangers of theUS“pivot”. He said:
Why does the United States talk of rebalancing military power to the Pacific? They already have massive power in the Pacific. More than all other nations combined. Do they really need more, for what purpose?
What useful purpose do marines based in Darwin fulfil? What is the purpose of spy planes on Cocos Island?
Far from contributing to peace and stability in the Western Pacific, they are creating a period of tension and even danger. Why?
Australia should not do anything that suggests that we could be part of a policy of military containment of China, but marines in Darwin, spy planes in Cocos Island make us part of that policy of containment.
This is the wrong way to preserve peace and security. We should not be part of it.
The choice for Australia to make is not for China or for the US, but independence of mind to break with subservience to America. Subservience has not and will not serve Australia’s interests. It is dangerous to our future.
In a changing strategic environment, there are opportunities for the Australian Government to build a safer, more secure environment. These opportunities are being thrown away.
The regional strategic environment is clearly complex and changing but this does not necessarily mean it is more dangerous.
William Tow paints the picture: “Australia’s traditional preference for allying with a ‘great and powerful friend’ to ensure its economic prosperity and national security is being tested by the growing reality that its future wealth will be determined by its position in Asia — and affected by the remarkable economic growth of China and India — even as Australian policy makers continue to assign strategic prominence to their country’s American alliance.” (William Tow, “Tangled Webs. Security Architectures inAsia”, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, July 2008)
Other analysts suggest thatAustraliamust consider the kind of military capabilities it will need in 2030 with the rise ofChinaandIndia. But why should we see the rise of these two nations as anything but benign?
The pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons and their mix with conventional weapons to allow “flexibility of choice” is now officialUSdoctrine.( Doctrine for Joint Theatre Nuclear Weapons, February 1996, 3-12.1 viii)
How can we be guaranteed that US nuclear weapons are not based or transited throughAustralia’s land, sea or air and that an Australian inspection regime exists to ensure that this does not happen?
What implications flow from this for the training of the ADF and its involvement in joint military operations with theUSmilitary? Are nuclear use tactics practiced inAustraliaby any troops? Will the Federal Government refuse ADF support for anyUSmilitary missions while the current doctrine of nuclear first strike exists?
The US Pine Gap base in centralAustraliais central to the co-ordination ofUSnuclear strike plans. Will the Federal Government deny use of this facility until theUSreverses its first strike policy?
The USmilitary “pivot” to Asiaand the Indo-Pacific will inevitably create more regional tension and instability, it will provoke a regional arms race with its concomitant threats to budgets and democracy, and it will increase the possibility of war, even nuclear war.
Australian Government active support for the policy brings war to our doorstep, threatens the security of Australian community, and risks relations withAustralia’s major trading partner, the country credited with getting us through the global financial crisis relatively unscathed. It will cost Australian taxpayers billions of dollars, making us poorer but no safer.
This has provoked a response in the Australian peace movement which has been small and relatively inactive for several years. New networks of peace groups have been established in all the State capitals, recently uniting into a national network (Independent and Peaceful Australia Network – IPAN), with the aim of raising public awareness and building opposition toCanberra’s support for the new Australian policy. This is an optimistic development within a sea of otherwise bad news.